October is Black Speculative Fiction Month! To celebrate, each Friday in October will be Pulp Fiction Friday. Authors will contribute a post discussing pulp, mystery, spies, and whodunits in the realms of science fiction and speculative. Welcome to Gary Phillips as he discusses the definition of pulp.
“Pulp,” to quote Tommy Hancock, editor-in-chief of Pro Se Press for whom I do some work, has stated the following, “…is fast-paced, plot oriented storytelling of a linear nature with clearly defined, larger than life protagonists and antagonists, creative descriptions, clever use of turns of phrase, words, as well as other aspects of writing that add to the intensity and pacing of the story.”
Pulp is hard-charging, fast delivery of story and prose, and some, but not a lot of introspection. Characters are existentialist if I may be so bold, their actions define them. Not to say those sensibilities aren’t found in other genres or certainly works I would consider neo or new pulp from what Clive Cussler writes to tech thrillers. But it’s not noir, which to me are stories about doomed characters on a doomed path, often for small stakes. Pulp adventure stories work best when it’s about big stakes…the country’s fate hangs in the balance or the world is in peril.
Certainly we’ve seen these elements filter into the James Bond films, the TV show Person of Interest (a machine that predicts crime – you can’t get more pulp than that), and the late and lamented Revolution, a retro future with horses and machine guns Though pulp certainly can have detectives as well as mystery elements as often pulp heroes must often solve who the villain is and how they are accomplishing their dastardly deed – often involving advanced tech.
Some of the pulp or new pulp I write has black folks or other people of color as main characters. Some of these stories are set in the ‘30s (Decimator Smith, who was in Black Pulp and the upcoming Black Pulp II, Jimmie Flint in Day of the Destroyers) but also the ‘60s, Brett Khodo, Agent of C.O.D.E. in Asian Pulp, ‘70s (my kickass P.I. in the Pam Grier Coffy mold, Nefra Adams to debut soon from Pro Se Single Shot, and the Silencer), and modern in the form of the Essex Man. I find them fun to write and enjoy slipping in a bit of revisionist history or at least history from a POV not often captured in other types of work. But I’ve also written, most often for Moonstone, stories about the Avenger, Operator 5, the Spider and other stalwarts as well and enjoy writing those too.
For instance I might mention that the Avenger, a millionaire like a lot of them were, funds soup kitchens or some charity as I always found it odd that you had all these stories with the Shadow, Doc Savage and so coming out in the Depression, but it was often not mentioned directly. Maybe that was an edict from the publishers, not to have the real world encroach on the fantastic tales. But in a Decimator Smith story, set in late 1930s L.A. I have to note that it was a segregated city by restrictive covenants or that a rent party is happening. Not to preach, I’m an entertainer, but to provide a context and a texture for his stories.
I also write hardboiled, noir, sci-fi and westerns, even I’m proud to say, Chick Lit…or a send-up of such at least in the form of the recent round robin novel, Beat, Slay, Love: One Chef’s Hunger for Delicious Revenge. On the sci-fi front, there’s an anthology out now in tradepaper and audio I’ve co-edited and contributed to called Occupied Earth. It takes a look at life and resistance 20 years on after we are conquered by the militaristic Mahk-Ra. In this book there are several stories that are mashups of sci-fi and crime. I dig the many aspects of genre and the overlap you can do one to the other in terms of sensibilities and styles. In the end though, I write the stories I want to read.
Seems I became a writer because I can’t draw. As a kid that dynamic imagery of comics artists Jack “King” Kirby, Gene Colon, John Buscema, Neal Adams, Gil Kane, Steranko, even the svelte draftsmanship of Carmine Infantino, filled my head. That was the days of fandom and I wrote and drew, inked with a Speedball pen and badly lettered my own strips to try and get them published. I was kindly and sometimes not-so-kindly told my art stank. But every so often a mention would be made the writing wasn’t too bad.
Well, hell, one out of two wasn’t bad.
As to where the genre goes, I like to believe the audience for the material will grow.
Maybe some in new pulp don’t want that to happen but me, I’m fighting for people’s beer money as Heinlein noted. Sure some of what’s written in new pulp can only appeal to a certain audience if it’s say more adventures of the Black Bat. And that’s fine. But there’s other material that is well-done, exciting, presented professionally and there’s no reason these sort of stories, novellas and novels won’t appeal to a larger audience – the folks who are reading the aforementioned Cussler, the Pendergast books by Preston & Child, the Rogue Angel series and what have you.
On who is my favorite pulp character I vacillate, but all said and done, I’ll roll with the Shadow and his twisted mythos. Something about how at heart he’s this domed character, a dark and twisted man who ultimately will find no peace in his war on crime and evil ‘cause he’s just too messed up, you know? Pulp and noir.
As to how to find me, I guess I am too old-fashioned. I don’t be twittering, pintering or any of that other crazy stuff you young folks do. I do though have a website, www.gdphillips.com and am on Facebook.